It is time for Action Movie Friday, where I treat an action movie like an action movie and not like a drama and stuff. All movie reviews are subjective and while I may like something, you might think it’s shit, and vice versa!
Title: The Fast & The Furious: Tokyo Drift
MPAA Rating: PG-13
Genre: High School, Racing
Starring: Lucas Black, Nathalie Kelley, Shad Moss, Sung Kang, Brian Tee, Shin’ichi Chiba
Director: Justin Lin
Writer: Chris Morgan
Budget: $85 Million
Box Office: $158 Million
Rotten Tomatoes Rating: 37%
This movie had the unfortunate distinction of being as bad as I feared it was. The only reason why I think they tried to go ahead with the franchise is because this is one of Universal’s very few franchises and the movie still brought in twice it’s budget despite being horrible. Managing to negotiate Vin Diesel’s return was probably icing on the cake at that point.
When a friendly race turns into a two car wreck, Sean finds himself in trouble with the law, again. On his third strike, Sean is sent to Tokyo to live with his father. His father’s only rule, no cars. Sean immediately manages to find himself in the drag race underworld of Tokyo where there is new type of racing, drifting. The scene is run by the nephew of the local Yakuza crime lord and when Sean talks up the nephew’s girl, the only way to settle it is with a race where Sean loses spectacularly and finds himself in debt to the nephew’s partner, Han. Han makes Sean his pick up man and teaches him how to drift and more importantly why he should race. But Han’s playing a dangerous game, one that costs him his life and Sean is going to have to settle the debt with the Yakuza or be run out of Tokyo forever.
In a disastrous attempt to hit the teenage demographic, this is what happens when someone takes what is a fairly decent concept, sets it into high school and then promptly forgets what high school is really about. (Hint: It’s not about cliques and outsiders and insiders.) Add in what was a fad in all the racing games at the time, which trying to drift in a race game where you don’t have an emergency brake is frustrating instead of entertaining, to try and make it ‘relevant.’ Plus, the plot is so recycled (think movie one but in high school and without an undercover agent element) that it’s duller than dishwater. Lastly, our main character is not the least bit likeable. Say what you like about Dom and Brian, at least we like them.
I figured this was going to be bad when less than fifteen minutes in Sean had a chance to stand up for something and completely passed it by. You see, a character that doesn’t stand for something, doesn’t stand for anything. The viewer doesn’t have any reason to care for them if they don’t care about anything themselves. I understand that maybe this movie was supposed to be about character growth and contrast later to how Sean stands up for his friend, but when the character has two modes, blank face and smirk with a wink. There’s not much depth to care about at all. Especially, since in the end, it doesn’t feel like this character grew at all. It’s one thing to stand up for a guy you know, it’s another to stand up for a complete stranger which was what was shown to us in the beginning.
The plot is built upon the flimsy premise that all powerful/football jock type guys are so insecure about their relationships with their girls that no other guy is allowed to talk to them. So, each race that Sean gets into is based upon the fact that he had the unfortunate, plot induced, luck to talk to some other guy’s girl and that guy took offense and of course since these are boys who like/have fast cars the only way to settle whose dick is bigger (and who gets the girl) is to have a race. This is insulting both on behalf of teenage males and on the behalf of teenage females and on behalf of the audience. Teenage boys don’t need the excuse of a girl to see who has the bigger engine (and thus the bigger dick.) In fact, all they need is a stretch of road and some trash talk. The fact that the girls put up with this shitty behavior is demeaning and insulting. In fact, since I don’t want to go over this twice, I’m eating one of the cookies that has to do with the females in the story because simply put the females don’t do anything.
The character we do care about would be Han. However, Han is so laid back, it’s hard to build a movie around a piece of taffy and a wooden board. And the plot that is more interesting is only brought in once we hit the 60 minute mark if not later, which gives 40 minutes to do something with it. It just wasn’t enough time. I will also mention that if any father who did what Sean’s father did (kicking him out and then later offering up his car for the last race) isn’t a good dad. A good dad sets rules, sets consequences and then enforces them, instead of letting his son race against the yakuza. I think, that was pretty much the final straw for me in this movie. I’m eating the plot cookie.
Fights, there weren’t really any fights. There was a lot of Sean getting the ass kicked out of him but no fights. (Eats the cookie)
And there weren’t any gratuitous explosions. There were a couple of crashes and yes, we had a car catch fire, but nothing really unnecessary here. No cookie.
This leaves the world building cookie. Okay, drift racing, is it plausible? Well, I’m sure some of it is plausible, the going around corners maybe. Hey, I drift around corners all the time in my little car and not entirely on purpose either! It’s just that type of car. But going around another car in a perfect circle or going up a parking ramp sideways, I’m not as sure, but hey, it looks cool. However, they’ve got a long scene of a bunch of cars going down the mountain and drifting in the straightaways. And after a while of watching that, while pretty, it’s gets down to “what is the point?” And the last race, which would seem to be about drifting, still felt like a regular race when it was all said and done. That and by this point, the movie couldn’t decide what it wanted to be, did it want to be about high school kids being dumb, or about Japanese crime mafias. (And may I also say, a terrible waste of a location here, go to Tokyo and shoot most of it inside parking garages?) There was also an extreme lack of cops in this movie. I’m going to take a bite of this cookie just because it stretches my plausibility here. (Yes, okay, we’ve had cars pulling safes and jumping into the air and landing on boats but my suspension of belief gets hit by a car going in a perfect circle around another car at least 3 times without losing speed and a lack of law enforcement.)
To be fair, I wouldn’t be reviewing this movie if it wasn’t part of the Fast Franchise. It just doesn’t fit with them at all. It’s the wrong audience, they wrong characters and doesn’t match the previous themes. Universal did a smart thing when they brought Vin Diesel back for Fast 4. Bad plot, no female agency, no fights, no explosions and a strained world. Three Quarters of a Gingersnap.